When the House and Senate filed base budgets last week, advocates for programs that were cut in 2011, including public education, were upset the budgets didn’t restore funding. Lawmakers countered that the budget was expected to grow.
Yesterday the Senate Finance Committee got a preview of just how much the budget might grow under the constitutional limit on budget increases at their first public meeting on the multi-billion dollar document. The Legislative Budget Board’s Ursula Parks explained how much general state revenue (GR) would be available under that cap.
“The bill that’s before you, relative to the spending limit, is that you can spend another $4.5 billion GR, before hitting the limit,” Parks told the committee.
If lawmakers wanted to bust through that cap, which they could do with a majority vote, and spend all the general revenue available, the Senate’s base budget could grow by as much as $5.7 billion. Democrats say they want some of that money to go straight back into public schools.
The Legislature cut public education funding by $5.4 billion last session, but education commissioner Michael Williams told senators those cuts did not affect teaching.
“We’re not seeing dramatic numbers of schools that are becoming academically unacceptable or losing their accreditation,” Williams said. “I think school districts are doing their part and making progress with the dollars that they had.”
If Democrats are leading the charge on restoring education funds, Republicans have taken up the mantle for testing, leading calls to change the state’s current STAAR accountability testing system.
Right now, the House budget doesn’t even fund the testing program. In the Senate finance hearing, Williams tried to explain to Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, why the state requires so many STAAR tests.
“A kid ought to have four years of rigor in language arts,” he said. “They ought to be able to write something other than 140-character texts. A youngster needs four years of rigor in math, and does it have to be algebra I, algebra II, geometry? Perhaps not. In the world that we live in I think it’s probably helpful to have four years of rigor in science. ... We measure what we treasure.”
The Senate Finance Committee will continue with opening presentations on the higher education budget this morning.